Federal appeals court blocks San Francisco law requiring health warnings on soda

A federal appeals court Tuesday blocked a San Francisco ordinance that requires advertisers of sugary drinks to post health warnings, saying in a unanimous decision that it likely violates freedom of speech.

A three-judge panel of the U.S. 9th Circuit Court of Appeals faulted the 2015 ordinance for mandating a large warning on billboards, structures and vehicles.

“By focusing on a single product, the warning conveys the message that sugar-sweetened beverages are less healthy than other sources of added sugars and calories and are more likely to contribute to obesity, diabetes, and tooth decay,” wrote Judge Sandra S. Ikuta, an appointee of President George W. Bush.

“This message” Ikuta added, “is deceptive in light of the current state of research.”

The San Francisco law requires the warning to be posted prominently: “Drinking beverages with added sugar(s) contributes to obesity, diabetes, and tooth decay.”

The American Beverage Assn., the California Retailers Assn. and the California State Outdoor Advertising Assn. sued, but a district judge refused to block the law.

The 9th Circuit said an injunction was warranted.

According to the decision, the warning conflicts with statements by the Food and Drug Administration that added sugars are “’generally recognized as safe’” and “`can be a part of a healthy dietary pattern when not consumed in excess amounts.’”

Judge Dorothy W. Nelson, a President Carter appointee, agreed the law should be blocked because it requires a warning “so large that it will probably chill protected commercial speech.”

She wrote separately because she said it was unnecessary for the court to make “the tenuous conclusion that the warning’s language is controversial and misleading.”

maura.dolan@latimes.com

Twitter: @mauradolan

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